Artist Robert Sutz made this life mask of Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1995. / Mark Henle, The Arizona Republic
PHOENIX -- In bronze, as in life, Barry Goldwater has a knack for finding himself in the middle of controversy.
A new 8-foot-tall, 1,700-pound statue of the late five-term U.S. senator and presidential candidate has two prominent Arizona artists at odds over whether the sculptor relied too heavily on a plaster life mask.
The Goldwater likeness by Deborah Copenhaver Fellows of Sonoita drew praise when it was unveiled March 31 at the Arizona Capitol, where it is on display until later this year, when it will be moved to the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall.
But Scottsdale artist Robert Sutz believes the Goldwater countenance is a little too lifelike.
Sutz believes Copenhaver Fellows based her sculpture on a plaster life mask he made of Goldwater in 1995, three years before his death at age 89 on May 29, 1998.
As a professional gesture and at the suggestion of Goldwater's son Michael, Sutz said he lent Copenhaver Fellows the "original master plaster positive" of the life mask for reference. Sutz believes she made her own mold of his artwork, damaging it in the process, and used it for her Goldwater piece without crediting him.
"Nothing on Earth could help a sculptor to get a good likeness more than to have reference to a life mask," said Sutz, who is known for an ongoing project in which he makes plaster life masks of Holocaust survivors.
In a written statement to The Arizona Republic, Copenhaver Fellows flatly denied basing her sculpture on Sutz's life mask. She said the life mask was damaged in the return shipment, but that Sutz received $1,100, FedEx's full insured amount for damaged artwork, on April 13, 2013.
Copenhaver Fellows said she hadn't heard from Sutz for a year.
"I did not make a mold of his mask, nor did I need to," Copenhaver Fellows said in a statement. "Making a mold of it would not have been beneficial to me, as it was life scale and my monument is life-and-one-third."
There is renewed interest in Goldwater this year, the 50th anniversary of his presidential campaign against President Lyndon Johnson. Goldwater lost in a landslide, but his conservative supporters commandeered the Republican Party and steered it to the right, laying the groundwork for the 1980 election of President Ronald Reagan and providing a blueprint for the "tea party" of the 21st century. Goldwater represented Arizona in the Senate from 1953 to 1965 and from 1969 to 1987.
Goldwater had been retired for years when he allowed Sutz to fit him with plaster bandages to make the life mask, which was later fitted with a pair of authentic Goldwater glasses given to him by the senator. When Copenhaver Fellows returned the mask, the Goldwater glasses had been cut off in a manner that Sutz says could not have been accidental and likely would have required a power tool.
It took more than two weeks to repair, for which Sutz said he was compensated $1,000, not $1,100.
The state paid Copenhaver Fellows $125,000 for the Goldwater statue, plus another $25,000 when the size was changed after she had begun work, according to Matt Roberts, spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett. The Architect of the Capitol, which oversees Statuary Hall, recommended the statue be made taller to match newer figures on display there, Roberts said.
The new Goldwater figure will replace a statue of World War I hero John Campbell Greenway as one of Arizona's two contributions to Statuary Hall. Father Eusebio Kino, the 17th century Jesuit missionary, is Arizona's other statue.
Michael Goldwater said "a friend of a friend" told him Sutz had done a life mask of his father, and he gave the two artists each other's phone numbers. Having seen the life mask, which preserves an elderly image of his father, Goldwater doubts Copenhaver Fellows relied on it.
"The life mask was the same size as dad's normal head," Michael Goldwater said. "The statue ... is 8 feet tall, not 6 feet tall. So, it's quite a bit larger. I am almost sure they didn't use it as a mold."
Copenhaver Fellows also provided The Republic with a photo of a Goldwater bust she sculpted to win the state's commission for the statue in January 2012. According to her website, she has done a number of sculptures and monuments, including a gorilla at the San Francisco Zoo.
"I had literally hundreds of reference materials from different sources to work from in order to complete the Goldwater sculpture," she said in her statement. "A portrait in art is more than the reproduction of a subject's facial features. Life comes to a work of art when the artist captures the essence of the individual, and that is the most difficult task that an artist can undertake."
Late last week, Sutz checked out Copenhaver Fellows' sculpture in person and maintains his suspicions were confirmed.
Sutz said he expected that Copenhaver Fellows would say she didn't borrow from his work, but that he wants to try to set the record straight, even if it is his word against hers.
"It's been a very upsetting issue," Sutz said, "but I can't imagine much being done about it."
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